US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin was admitted to a critical care ward with a bladder issue after he transferred his duties to his deputy on Sunday, February 12, the Pentagon said. Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks “assumed the functions and duties” just before 5:00 pm, Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryder said in a statement, adding that the White House and Congress had been informed.
The latest health scare came weeks after it emerged that Austin, 70, had kept previous hospital stays secret and had not immediately informed US President Joe Biden of his cancer diagnosis, sparking criticism as the United States faces crises in the Middle East and Ukraine. Austin effectively vanished from the public eye for treatment for prostate cancer in December and again in January after suffering complications from the procedure.
This time, the public was alerted around two hours after he was sent to the hospital on Sunday afternoon. Austin “was transported by his security detail” to the hospital, Ryder said in the earlier statement. Ryder noted initially that the defense chief brought along classified communications systems and would be retaining “the functions and duties of his office.”
However, the announcement that Hicks would instead be taking over came just a few hours later. “At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized,” said the latest statement, attributed to Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chesnut of the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland. “The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent.”
Austin apologized this month after coming under heavy political fire for keeping the previous hospital stays secret. “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis,” he told journalists on February 1. At the time, he said he was still in recovery, suffering from leg pain and using a golf cart for transportation inside the Pentagon.
The undisclosed absences – as well as this current hospital stay – come at a time when the United States faces a spiraling crisis in the Middle East, with American forces in Iraq and Syria facing near-daily attacks from Iran-backed militants in retaliation for Washington’s steadfast support of Israel.
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